Bodybuilder, powerlifter and motivational speaker Chris Ruden was ashamed of his disabled hand for most of his life, and he hid it under a cloth glove for 17 years. Ruden was born with a birth defect that left him with only two fingers on his left hand and his left arm four inches shorter than his right.
In middle school, a girl Ruden had a crush on mocked him in front of their class, humiliating Ruden so much that he decided never to show his hand to anyone. At school, he refused to take his hand out of his pocket when others could see it, even going to the bathroom to take off his backpack.
"I was petrified by what people might think of me," said Ruden, 27, who lives in Coconut Creek, Florida. "I always pretended like I didn't care what people thought, but the real problem was I believed what people thought. It was me being my own bully to myself."
Last month, Ruden posted an emotional video to his Youtube page, revealing his deformed hand. The video was posted to Reddit and quickly went viral, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response. Ruden received thousands of emails and direct messages on social media from people who shared heartfelt stories of their own struggles hiding a disability.
He decided to go public and show the world his hand after so long because he recently got a prosthetic hand. He decided that when the hand arrived, he would take off the glove for good because to use the prosthetic, he would have to take it on and off in public.
Myoelectric sensors in the prosthetic detect muscle contractions in Ruden's forearm muscles. The prosthetic, called the i-Limb Quantum by Touch Bionics, moves based on these muscle commands. For example, Ruden flexes his muscles to close his hand and extends his wrist to open it.
Ruden decided he wanted the prosthetic because of injuries and pain he faced while lifting weights. He lifted using a lifting hook that he would wrap around his arm. Having a prosthetic hand balances things out, putting an even pull on his spine from side to side so that he's not leaning one way as he lifts.
Ruden admitted powerlifting can be difficult at times, especially with a physical disability, because "I felt like I needed to look a certain way, like the guys in the magazine and on Instagram-perfect Photoshop-type bodies."
But now he thinks his hand "looks pretty cool."
"I finally accepted the last bit of myself. I accepted this thing is part of me, but it doesn't define me," Ruden said in an interview with The Washington Post. "Seeing the response from that video made me realize you're always going to have that good and bad. Whatever someone says about you, it doesn't matter unless you have the right mindset about yourself."
On his Instagram page, Ruden describes himself as a seven-fingered diabetic powerlifter. One of his big achievements is a 655-pound dead lift, meaning lifting a barbell with weights from the ground to just below the hips.
Ruden said he chose to start powerlifting because people told him he couldn't.
When he's not lifting, he spends his time as a motivational coach helping others overcome their own disabilities. At first Ruden was concerned those he helped might see him as fake because he was hiding his disability. To Ruden's surprise, the opposite occurred.
"People saw I was genuine and real," Ruden said. "I wasn't a hero. I wasn't a celebrity. I was a real person still dealing with my own problems while helping people with theirs."
Ruden plans to continue powerlifting and motivating others who live with disabilities. He said he looks forward to using his new insight to help others now that he has conquered such a long-lasting hurdle for himself.
"Some people see me and are inspired, but I see other people and realize there's so much room for improvement and growth," Ruden said. "My biggest motivation has always been other people."
Now that his big emotional reveal is behind him, Ruden says his next step is to make lighthearted YouTube videos about his disability. "It might sound weird but people take life way to seriously. . . . I know I did," he said.